TCS Daily


An Emerging Threat

By Ariel Cohen - June 27, 2003 12:00 AM

The 9/11 terrorist attack taught the United States government a painful lesson -- it must be alert to emerging threats, including terrorism and other destabilizing activities against its military assets, citizens, and allies. Some of these emerging threats, combined with the actions of terrorist Jihadi organizations, such as Al-Qaeda, may also generate political instability in key geographic areas and threaten pro-American regimes, such as in Central Asia.

The U.S. government is taking a close look at Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Party of Liberation) and their activities, trying to answer the question of whether Hizb is joining the ranks of terror-wielding jihadis. Analysts note their increasingly militant rhetoric, participation of Hizb fighters in Afghanistan, and explosives and weapons found when Hizb members are arrested.

Is Hizb ut-Tahrir an emerging threat to American interests in Central and South Asia and the Middle East?

A clandestine, cadre-operated, global radical Islamist political organization that operates in 40 countries around the world, with headquarters apparently in London, Hizb was in the headlines recently, with the German government banning its activities and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arresting 55 alleged members and over 60 "supporters."

Hizb's proclaimed goal is jihad against America and the overthrow of existing political regimes and their replacement with a Califate (Khilafah in Arabic), a theocratic dictatorship based on the Shari'a (religious Islamic law). The model for Hizb is the "righteous" Califate, an Islamic state that existed in the 7th and 8th centuries under the Prophet Muhammad and his first four successors, known as the "righteous Califs."

Hizb ut-Tahrir's spread around the globe over the last five decades, in Western Europe and often in authoritarian states with strong secret police organizations, is an impressive feat of beating security. It could only be accomplished by melding 20th century totalitarian political "technology" with Islamic notions of the 7th and 8th centuries, as interpreted by medieval Islamic scholars. Only a cell commander knows the next level of leadership, ensuring operational security. "Representatives" in Great Britain and Pakistan claim to speak for the organization, but have no official address or legal office. Its leadership for large regions (e.g., the former Soviet Union), countries, and local areas is kept secret. The genius of Hizb founder Tariquddin an-Nabhani was marrying Orthodox Islamist ideology to Leninist strategy and tactics.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a totalitarian organization, akin to a disciplined, Marxist-Leninist party, in which internal dissent is neither encouraged nor tolerated. Because its goal is global revolution, Hizb is similar to the Trotskyite wing of the international communist movement. Its candidate members become well versed in party literature during a two-year indoctrination course in a study circle, supervised by a party member. Only when a member "matures in Party culture," "adopts the thoughts and opinions of the party," and "melts with the Party," can he or she become a full-fledged member. Women are organized in cells supervised by a woman cadre or a male relative. After joining the party, the new recruit may be requested (or ordered) to relocate to start a new cell. When a critical mass of cells is achieved, according to its doctrine, Hizb may move to take over a country in preparation for the establishment of the Califate. Such a takeover would likely be bloody and violent. Moreover, its strategy and tactics show that, while the party is currently circumspect in preaching violence, it is already justifying its use -- just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks did -- when "circumstances" (such as jihad against the "infidels") dictate that.

Hizb's platform and action fits in with "Islamist globalization" -- an alternative mode of globalization based on radical Islam. This ideology poses a direct challenge to the Western model of a secular, market-driven, tolerant, multicultural globalization. Where radicalization has taken hold in the Islamic world, Hizb gains new supporters in droves.

Hizb's primary characteristics include the fiery rhetoric of jihad, the murky funding sources, rejection of existing political regimes, and shared outlook and goals with Al-Qaeda and other organizations of the global jihadi movement.

Hizb has called for a jihad against the U.S., its allies, and moderate Muslim states. The purpose of the jihad is "to find and kill the Kufar (non-believers). In documents drafted before 9/11, Hizb leaders accused the United States of imposing hegemony on the world. After 9/11, Hizb claimed that the U.S. has declared war against the global Muslim community (Umma), has established an international alliance under the "pretext" of fighting terrorism, and is reinforcing its grip on the countries of Central Asia. Hizb further claimed that the U.S. accused Osama bin Laden of being responsible for the 9/11 attacks "without any evidence or proof." The party attempted to use its influence by calling upon all Muslim governments to reject the U.S. appeal for cooperation in the war against terrorism.

To prevent Hizb ut-Tahrir from destabilizing Central Asia and other areas, the Bush administration may pursue a number of policy options. The U.S. is considering expanding intelligence collection on the organization. This is likely to be done both in Western Europe and in outlying areas, such as Central Asia, Pakistan, and Indonesia. A recent visit to Washington of German Interior Minister Otto Schile may be a step in this direction.

Washington is also getting irritated with the glacial pace of economic reform in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan. The U.S. may condition security assistance to Central Asia on economic reform. Hizb is growing in Central Asia due to the "revolution of diminishing expectations," increasing despair, and the lack of secular political space and economic opportunity in the region. To jump-start economic development, the Bush administration may condition security assistance provided by the Pentagon on the adoption of free market policies, strengthening property rights and the rule of law, encouraging transparency, and fighting corruption.

The U.S. will further encourage democracy and popular participation. The scarcity of secular and moderate Islamic democratic politics and credible non-governmental organization (NGO) activities and the lack of freedom of expression may be driving thousands of young recruits to join Hizb in Central Asia.

The U.S. will expand cooperation with moderate and secular governments in the Muslim world to discredit radicals and encourage moderates. The U.S. should encourage local governments to not only crack down on radical Islam (as they already do), but also encourage alternatives.

The United States has important national security interests at stake in Central Asia, Indonesia and Pakistan, including access to the military bases used to support operations in Afghanistan, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and technologies for their production, and securing access to natural resources, including oil and gas. A Hizb takeover of any key state could provide the global radical Islamist movement with a geographic base and access to the expertise and technology to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. and its allies will do everything possible to avoid such an outcome.
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